Friday, May 28, 2010

POLITICS -

First, I consider this PBS Newshour piece to be very important as a measure of our current National Strategy and suggest my readers view the video.

"Obama's National Security Plan Highlights Diplomacy, Global Economy" PBS Newshour Transcript 5/27/2010

Excerpts

JIM LEHRER (Newshour): Next tonight: The Obama administration presents its new national security strategy. Today, in a 52-page document, the principles behind the policies were laid out.

In a Washington speech, Secretary of State Clinton said that includes the smart use of power.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State (video of speech): We are no less powerful, but we need to apply our power in different ways. We are shifting from mostly direct exercise and application of power to a more sophisticated and difficult mix of indirect power and influence. So, smart power is not just a slogan. It actually means something.

JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner covered the speech and read the document behind it.

Margaret, welcome.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): Thank you, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: How should smart power be defined in these new terms?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, it really reflects the assessment in this 52-page document that they're saying they're looking at the world as it is, not as it used to be.

And that means that, though the U.S. is still number one economically and militarily, it really isn't alone in exercising power, and that, to work it will in the world and protect its interests, the U.S. is going to have to more skillfully manage cooperation among allies, adversaries and all these emerging new powers.

So, it means more emphasis -- obviously, I mean, military remains an important tool in the kit bag, but greater emphasis on cooperation and persuasion. And it is a strategy or an approach that, as she said today, requires patience.

JIM LEHRER: Patience. And were there any specifics, either stated or implied, like Iran, North Korea, anything like that, that you can kind of say, yes, I understand that?

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, I think so.

I mean, this document is not -- it's not like a State of the Union or it's not like a policy speech that announces new policies.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: So, what -- the specifics would be tucked into sections.

Let's take Iran. So, that would be in the section about how important it is to fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And in there would be a paragraph about the approach they're taking to Iran, which is the same as North Korea, to show them there are incentives for doing the right thing and incentives for doing the wrong thing.

But, of course, implicit in that is that takes international cooperation, as we well know. But this was more their sort of broad strategic concept, not a specific policy.

-----

JIM LEHRER: Was there -- if you had to say, all right, this really changes the way the United States has been operating, can you say that in a...

MARGARET WARNER: A couple quick things.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: One is, he -- they put for the first time America's economic and other kinds of strength here at home at the center, says America can't be strong abroad unless we're strong at home. And it's the first national security strategy to mention the deficit and the national debt, and how important it is to address that.

JIM LEHRER: It's never been in one of these before, has it?

MARGARET WARNER: Never. Never.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: So, it's way more, they like to say, comprehensive. Or one could say it's an acknowledgment of reality.

Another difference is in the use of military force. The interesting thing to me there is, I mean, he doesn't reject preventive war. He reserves the right to use force unilaterally. But he does warn against the danger of overusing military force.

And, as he said at his speech at West Point, our adversaries would like nothing better than to have the United States, America, sap its strength by overextending itself abroad. So, there was an explicit acknowledgment of the dangers there.

And then, on terror -- as we know, no longer a war on terror, a war against al-Qaida -- that's more tonal. As we see how they're operating around the world, they are still keeping up pressure in where they think al-Qaida and its affiliates are -- are either resurgent or just there.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, Margaret, did he -- is it correct to say that there are fingerprints and thought prints by the president in this? This is not something that came out of a groupthink?

MARGARET WARNER: Very much. And I'm glad you mentioned that.

I mean, this is really the Obama doctrine from the campaign, but tempered by 16 months in the real world. So, for example, in the Iran -- again, going back to the Iran section, he said some -- it says something like, we are pursuing engagement -- I don't have the exact words here -- but, you know, essentially, without any sense of illusion.

And, I mean, there's no doubt that this strategy of cooperation, they have seen the limits of that. I mean, Hillary Clinton said today, you know, it's one thing to get in a room with a lot of other countries and we think we have a community of interests, but to go from there to common action is very tough.

-----

MARGARET WARNER: I mean, I think they took the Obama strategy, and then everybody filled -- I mean, they -- they collectively filled out all their sections.

What we are seeing is that they're rolling this out. I mean, President Obama gave the overall themes at West Point. John Brennan, the counterterrorism adviser, at the White House, gave a speech at a Washington think tank yesterday laying out the terrorism policy. She did the sort of diplomacy and development. And -- and then Jim Jones, the National Security Council director, is going to lay out the strategy again tomorrow.

So, each is taking a piece and trying to develop it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

ENVIRONMENT - BP Legal Shenanigans

"BP wants Houston judge with oil ties to hear spill cases" by Scott Hiaasen & Curtis Morgan, McClatchy News 5/26/2010

Excerpt

Facing more than 100 lawsuits after its Gulf of Mexico oil spill killed 11 workers and threatened four coastal states, oil giant BP is asking the courts to place every pre-trial issue in the hands of a single federal judge in Houston.

That judge, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, has traveled the world giving lectures on ethics for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, a professional association and research group that works with BP and other oil companies. The organization pays his travel expenses.

Hughes has also collected royalties from several energy companies, including ConocoPhillips and Devon Energy, from investments in mineral rights, his financial disclosure forms show.

Hughes, appointed to the bench in 1985 by then-President Ronald Reagan, declined to comment for this report.

Legal experts say the request for a single judge, while not unprecedented, is unusual, and they surmise BP is seeking rulings from a judge well-versed in the company's issues.

"A judge well-versed in the company's issues," legal-speak for a judge in BP's pocket.

POLITICS - Latino Voters Turn Away From GOP

"Latino Voters Turn Away From GOP In Record Numbers, Immigration Reform To Blame" by James Johnson, IndyPosted 5/26/2010

The Grand Ole Party isn’t looking so grand these days for Latino voters. According to a recent NBC/Telemundo poll only 22% of Latinos have a favorable view of the GOP, compared to 37% of white voters.

Newser says the rift shows the gap in beliefs between Latinos and White’s. For example 70% of Caucasian voters support Arizona immigration reform, while only 31% of Latino voters support the initiative.

Latinos also give President Obama a larger approval rating: Latinos (54%), whites (34%). While 58% of Latinos say they trust Democrats to protect their rights, with only 11% saying the same of the GOP.

While the Latino vote is important, the GOP has the backing of another large group, suburban white women.

As GOP 2010 sinks in the West.

POLITICS - 1st Quarter Job Improvement

"CBO: Stimulus Put Up To 2.8M People To Work In First Quarter" by Ben Frumin, TPM 5/26/2010

It sure sounds like it's working...

The CBO now estimates that the stimulus put as many as 2.8 million people to work in the first three months of this year -- and raised GDP by as much as 4.2%.

The CBO estimates that the stimulus put 1.2 million to 2.8 million to work in the first quarter, and boosted GDP between 1.7% and 4.2%.

Thanks to the stimulus, the unemployment rate was lowered by between .7% and 1.5% in the first quarter, the CBO estimates.

Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement that the CBO report "is important validation that the action we took to rescue the economy last year has not only pulled us back from the brink, but put us on a firm path toward economic recovery."

Check out the full report here (PDF).

ON THE LITE SIDE - California Joins in Arizona Crackdown

CRACKDOWN
Immigration Check Point


NEWS FLASH - The Immigration Officer was arrested by DEA Agents later today for possessing large quantities of Crack Cocaine. Arresting officers had no comment on incident.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

ENVIRONMENT - BP Oil Spill, Louisiana


"Heavier Oil Flow Threatens Louisiana's Sensitive Barrier Islands" PBS Newshour Transcript 5/25/2010

(Newshour video at link)

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): With the situation in the Gulf of Mexico remaining grim and amid concerns that the oil spill may be getting worse, the White House announced today President Obama will travel to the region on Friday. At the same time, internal investigations by BP and by the government raised new questions.

The latest sign of trouble came from live video of the oil spewing a mile below the surface. It appeared darker, suggesting less natural gas and more heavy oil may be escaping into the ocean. That would signal even more difficult days for beaches and marshes already damaged.

But BP played down the change in the oil flow as only temporary. The company's latest map projections show the oil expanding its spread. A Florida State researcher estimated it's now as large as Maryland and Delaware combined. And video from 20 miles off Louisiana gave grave testimony to what's going on below the surface.

Photographer Matt Ferraro made a dive on Monday.

MATT FERRARO, director of photography, Ocean Futures Society: I was surrounded by oil. I thought there would be more fish. And, you know, when you're traveling across the ocean on a boat, you see all kinds of life -- birds, dolphins, things like that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the meantime, BP said its siphoning operation is collecting much more oil now, after two days of falling totals. At the same time, use of the chemical Corexit 9500 to break up the oil was cut back.

The Environmental Protection Agency ordered BP to find something less toxic. But White House energy adviser Carol Browner said today there may not be many other good options.

CAROL BROWNER, assistant to the president for energy and climate change: As it turns out, there are not as many being manufactured as people thought in the quantities that are needed. What EPA did yesterday was direct BP to use less of this dispersant while they continue to study what other alternatives may be available.

JUDY WOODRUFF: While that search is under way, engineers continued preparing the so-called top kill procedure to seal the blown-out well. BP said it could happen tomorrow or later.

The oil giant also reported its findings on what went wrong back in April, when the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank, and the spill began. The report pointed at the failure of the blowout preventer, owned by Transocean, and the cementing of the wellhead, performed by Halliburton.

BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, stopped short of directly assigning blame. Instead, he said -- quote -- "A number of companies are involved, including BP, and it is simply too early and not up to us to say who is at fault"

Separately, the U.S. Interior Department reported numerous rule violations by staffers for the federal Minerals Management Service in Louisiana. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called it "deeply disturbing" and -- quote -- "further evidence of the cozy relationship between some in MMS and the industry it regulates."

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, on a somber note, family and friends held a memorial service in Jackson, Mississippi, for 11 oil workers killed on the Deepwater Horizon.

JIM LEHRER (Newshour): The dangers to the marshlands and the coastline have increased as higher levels of oil are reaching the wetlands around Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana.

And that's where, tonight, "NewsHour" correspondent Tom Bearden filed his latest report.

TOM BEARDEN: This is one of the many small barrier islands off the Louisiana coast that are threatened by the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. Brown pelicans crowd on to the tiny bit of land that stands only a few feet above sea level. The birds nearly went extinct in the early '70s because of DDT. Their numbers surged after a restoration program, enough to take them off the endangered species list.

But now their nesting ground is in danger. The booms that surround the island are supposed to keep the oil away, but they haven't been entirely successful.

DAVE CVITANOVICH, resident of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana: A lot of pelicans lying over there.

TOM BEARDEN: Dave Cvitanovich spent most of his life in these waters. He's working with the Plaquemines Parish as a consultant on the oil spill.

Does it look like there's a lot of oil on shore?

DAVE CVITANOVICH: Yes, sir. Yes, over there on that point. And you can see on this white boom how it's collected, how it's become dirty. And these booms, all those white cotton-looking booms, very clean, and these booms were deployed yesterday morning. And they have soaked up very well. The thing about it, how much more oil is coming?


"Jindal demands accounting for oil spill" by JOSEPH GOODMAN, Sun Herald 5/24/2010

U.S. Cabinet officials charged with overseeing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill met with Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and other state and local officials today in southern Louisiana, less than 24 hours after Jindal demanded more help from the federal government to protect his state's delicate and complicated coastline. Solidarity between the federal government and Louisiana is being tested as heavy crude oil begins to lap upon beaches and damage wetlands. With Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano standing by his side, Jindal said during a press conference that "we need to make the federal government accountable."

Meanwhile, the messages of Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar continued direct blame at BP. "We came to see what BP has done and not done," Napolitano said. "We continue to hold BP responsible as the responsible party, but we are on them watching them." Napolitano said that a government-run leak-estimate committee has been been created to determine how much oil has spilled into the Gulf. "We have formed an independent estimates group with the best scientists available within the federal government with peer reviews by others to estimate how much oil overall BP has now spilled," Napalitano said.

Salazar said the president's directive is clear.

"We have a pause in place and so until we make another announcement that the President will make some time in the future we are bringing things to a halt to learn some of the lessons putting safety measures in place and decide how we are going to move forward," Salazar said. "This President has always been thoughtful and he wants to make sure we are getting it right. The lessons from this will be learned."


UPDATE

"BP Moves Ahead with Tricky 'Top Kill' Procedure to Stop Oil Leak" PBS Newshour 5/26/2010 See this IMPORTANT video

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

POLITICS - Obama to DoD, North Korea

"Obama to DoD: Prepare for NKorea Aggression" NewsMAX 5/24/2010

Excerpt

President Barack Obama has directed the U.S. military to coordinate with South Korea to "ensure readiness" and deter future aggression from North Korea, the White House said on Monday.

The United States gave strong backing to plans by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to punish North Korea for sinking one of its naval ships, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

The White House urged North Korea to apologize and change its behavior, he said.

"We endorse President Lee's demand that North Korea immediately apologize and punish those responsible for the attack, and, most importantly, stop its belligerent and threatening behavior," Gibbs said.

POLITICS - GOP on Spin Control

"Republican Congressional Candidate Deemed 'Unfit For Public Office' By His Own Party" by Elyse Siegel, Huffington Post 5/24/2010

Excerpt

Republican Tim D'Annunzio, who is running for congress in North Carolina's eighth district, is being attacked as "unfit for public office at any level" by his own political party.

Tom Fetzer, who chairs the North Carolina GOP, came out swinging at D'Annunzio over the weekend as the congressional hopeful battles Harold Johnson for the Republican nomination ahead of a June 22 runoff election.

"By my personal observation of his behavior, and by acquaintance with his record and background, I consider Mr. D'Annunzio unfit for public office at any level," Fetzer explained to the Charlotte Observer. "What he could do to the party as our nominee is secondary in my view to what he could do to the country if he got elected. If he got elected, for crying out loud, that would be a disaster."

Gee, imagine that. They can try all they want, but they are still the party of Rich Old White Ultra-Conservative Zealots. Their unspoken motto, "We don't like ANYONE different from us in our America."

ON THE LITE SIDE - Satire, Violent Crime Drops

"Violent Crime Drops 5.5% in 2009, GOP Blames Obama" by Vandal K, Opposing Views

Responding to an FBI report that says violent crime dropped by 5.5% overall across the country -- and in all four regions of the U.S. in 2009 -- angry Republican leaders immediately criticized President Barack Obama for the lack of more murders and rapes during his first year in office.

"We have a president who is apparently going to stand by and just watch the rate of crime drop," said John Boehner (R-Ohio). "Frankly, that is un-American. This country should be number 1 in everything -- job loss, war-mongering, violent crime. Then again, what else do you expect from this Administration and the activist judges destroying our Constitution?"

The Tea Party convened an emergency meeting on Monday so they could draw more racist posters that mock Obama as a "Peace-Loving, Kenyan Ghandi Wannabe."

"Less crime? My God, what has happened to our country?" Tea Party leader Mark Williams said. "What happened to all the black-on-black crime of my youth? As a boy, I remember the beautiful sound of gunshots and savage beatings down the block (way down the block). Now we have a president who is playing basketball while that beloved American tradition ends."

Sarah Palin took to her Facebook page right after the report was announced: "Todd and me (sic) are worried sick about this disturbing trend. Obama said he was four (sic) change. Is this the kind of socialist change he was blabbing about? I mean, he's already trying too (sic) take our guns away from us -- now he wants to take away our crime? Think about our future generations. Think about them walking to school without fear. I don't want to live in that America."

A tearful Glen Beck appeared at his blackboard: What did the Nazis do right before World War II? They tried to stop violent crime. Of course, they did some violent things -- but the drop in crime came first! Well, Barack Obama is succeeding at his grand master plan, and we're just standing by. We become more and more like Nazi Germany each day.

On his Excellence in Broadcasting Network, Rush Limbaugh chastised the president, saying "this is a wake up call for all good people who care about this country. Barack Hussein Obama is more concerned about some greasy seagulls than the loss of American crime. This is an outrage! Bring back Bush!"

In an emergency session, the Arizona Legislature passed SB 2020, which will immediately arm all brown people illegal aliens with automatic weapons, knowing they will surely rob the nearest convenience store and drive the crime rate back where it belongs.

Satire has always been an effective way to highlight hypocrisy and human frailties.

Monday, May 24, 2010

ON THE LITE SIDE - (Sorta) Oil Leak

Humor Times
5/2010


ENVIRONMENT - Washington, Big Oil, Non-Regulation = Unholy Trinity

"Oil Rules" by Joe Conason, New York Observer 5/19/2010

The more we learn about the BP oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the more we ought to question the basic assumptions that led us here. Like the explosion of the housing bubble that ruptured the world economy, this human and environmental tragedy resulted from a system that encourages reckless profiteering without effective regulation.

It is impossible to understand why an accident like the Deepwater Horizon disaster was inevitable without looking back on an era when the energy industry dominated government. The oil bidness, as it is known affectionately in Texas, could do no wrong under the Bush-Cheney administration, which was run by former oil executives and their lobbyists. Remember that among the top priorities of the secretive energy task force run by Vice President Dick Cheney was relief for Big Oil from "burdensome" environmental regulations.

As The New York Times reported recently, the Washington zeal for deregulation let offshore oil drilling proceed virtually without interference from government, even though scientists and engineers repeatedly raised safety and environmental concerns over the past decade. Warned specifically that the blowout-prevention technology drillers were relying on to prevent an explosive spill was faulty as long ago as 2000, the oil industry did nothing except to drill deeper.

As for the Mines and Minerals Service, the Interior Department agency responsible for overseeing the drilling operations, it did nothing, either-except to reduce its inspections of safety equipment. Presumably, the MMS failed to act because it was infested with crooked officials who actually took drugs and engaged in sexual relationships with oil industry personnel-and accepted bribes from them, too. The oil industry was allowed to drill, baby, drill wherever it wanted, often without even paying royalties to the federal government.

But the culture of American government, from the executive branch to Congress and even the judiciary, has been infected with a disease deeper than corruption: an ideological deference to corporate power, in the name of "free markets" and efficiency, that enriches a wealthy few at the expense of the nation. While this pattern can be detected across many sectors of the economy, its effects are now felt most acutely in the financial and energy sectors, whose power over government is legendary.

Such an imbalanced system encourages financial firms to take enormous risks, pocket the profits and let the taxpayers, workers and communities suffer the consequences. And the same system encourages oil companies to take enormous risks of a different kind, resist strict environmental requirements, book huge profits-and then let the rest of us cope with the consequences of their devastating pollution (although we can hope that BP will pay for at least part of the Gulf cleanup).

Free-market ideologues and other corporate shills insist that this is the most efficient way to do business, which is true enough for a corporate manager or a stockholder. But it isn't very efficient for the nation whose public wealth, natural resources and future prosperity are depleted by these ruinous practices.

In America, we have been told for more than three decades that there is indeed no other way to run an economy-and certainly not if we wish to preserve our traditional freedoms. But looking around the world, it's easy to see through those old platitudes. Countries that impose stronger regulation on their financial sectors did not endure the same kind of disruption we did-and emerged more swiftly from the recession. Countries that impose strict oversight on their energy sectors, including offshore drilling, are exemplary in protecting worker and environmental safety.

The world's best record on offshore oil is enjoyed by Norway, a free and democratic country where North Sea oil provides not only a major source of employment, but the funding for universal health care, education and a panoply of other important benefits. In Norway, oil drillers are expected to implement the most advanced systems of environmental protection. That's because the Norwegian people own the oil-and the oilmen answer to them.

Bold emphasis mine

POLITICS - Historical Impact of the Last 16 Months (5/2010)

"A Progressive Agenda to Remake Washington" by DAVID LEONHARDT, New York Times 5/21/2010

Excerpt

With the Senate’s passage of financial regulation, Congress and the White House have completed 16 months of activity that rival any other since the New Deal in scope or ambition. Like the Reagan Revolution or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the new progressive period has the makings of a generational shift in how Washington operates.

First came a stimulus bill that, while aimed mainly at ending a deep recession, also set out to remake the nation’s educational system and vastly expand scientific research. Then President Obama signed a health care bill that was the biggest expansion of the safety net in 40 years. And now Congress is in the final stages of a bill that would tighten Wall Street’s rules and probably shrink its profit margins.

If there is a theme to all this, it has been to try to lift economic growth while also reducing income inequality. Growth in the decade that just ended was the slowest in the post-World War II era, while inequality has been rising for most of the last 35 years.

It is far too early to know if these efforts will work. Their success depends enormously on execution and, in the case of financial regulation, specifically on the Federal Reserve, which did not distinguish itself during the housing bubble.

Already, though, one downside to the legislative spurt does seem clear. By focusing on long-term problems, Mr. Obama and the Democrats have given less than their full attention to the economy’s current weakness and turned off a good number of voters.

After months of discussion, and with the unemployment rate hovering near a 27-year high, Democratic leaders said Thursday they had finally reached agreement on a bill that would send aid to states and take other steps to increase job growth. Congress plans to vote on the bill next week. But some of the money will not be spent for months and may not be enough to affect voters’ attitudes before November’s midterm elections.

Still, the turnabout since Jan. 20 — the first anniversary of Mr. Obama’s inauguration and the day after Scott Brown, a Republican, won a Senate seat in liberal Massachusetts — has been remarkable. Then, commentators pronounced the Obama presidency nearly dead. Today, he looks more like a liberal answer to Ronald Reagan.

“If you’d asked me about this administration after Scott Brown was elected, I’d have told you it was going to fizzle into virtually nothing,” said Theda Skocpol, the Harvard political scientist. “Now it could easily be one of the pivotal periods in domestic policy.” But, Ms. Skocpol added, “It will depend on what happens in the next two elections.”

The recent period surely will not match the impact of the New Deal. Nothing is likely to, notes David Kennedy,a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, because the New Deal created much of the modern American government. “These are not as dramatic as the foundational moments,” Mr. Kennedy said, “but they’re significant changes.”

Alan Brinkley, a historian of the Depression, added: “This is not the New Deal, but it’s a significant series of achievements. And given the difficulty of getting anything done under the gridlock of Congress, it’s pretty surprising.”

Bold emphasis mine

Not perfect (what human endeavor is), but another step in the long, on going, road to an improved America for everyone.

Friday, May 21, 2010

POLITICS - Americas WIN Again, Finance Reform Update

"Senate Passes Reforms Designed to Prevent Worst U.S. Collapse" by Alison Vekshin & Phil Mattingly, Bloomberg 5/21/2010

Excerpt

The U.S. Senate, bringing Congress to the brink of passing the most comprehensive regulation of the financial industry since the Great Depression, approved a bill that imposes restrictions on proprietary trading by banks and creates a consumer protection agency designed to prevent lending abuses that triggered the housing collapse and the worst unemployment in almost three decades.

The legislation, approved by a 59-39 vote yesterday and requiring reconciliation with a bill passed by the House of Representatives in December, provides a mechanism for liquidating financial institutions, until recently considered too big to fail, a council of regulators monitoring threats to the economy and specific restraints on the trading of so-called derivatives, which spawned the toxic debts that seized up the credit markets in 2007 and 2008 and prompted the Federal Reserve to make trillions of dollars of loans to banks on the brink of insolvency.

“When this bill becomes law, the joyride on Wall Street will come to a screeching halt,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said after the vote.

Prohibiting financial institutions from trading derivatives -- contracts whose value is derived from stocks, bonds, loans, currencies and commodities, or linked to specific events such as changes in interest rates or the weather -- is especially controversial and opposed by Wall Street lobbyists and by some regulators, including Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. The proposed consumer protection bureau, which the Senate has placed inside the Fed, would have powers to write and enforce rules banning lending considered abusive.

"No regulation" GOP looses again.

POLITICS - Fox Favorite Son, Glenn Beck $GOLD$

"Glenn Beck Gets Slammed Over Gold Ads" by Steven James Snyder, Time

Excerpt

Forget fast-forwarding through the commercials. New York Congressman Anthony Weiner clearly watches his news broadcasts live, because he’s seen some ads that have really ticked him off.

Weiner is calling for an investigation into precious metals seller Goldline, a company Weiner claims employs conservative broadcast talkers to scare viewers into investing in gold -– at grossly inflated prices.

“On numerous occasions, Glenn Beck has dedicated entire segments of his program to explaining why the U.S. money supply is destined for hyperinflation with Barack Obama as president. He will often promote the purchase of gold as the only safe investment alternative for consumers who want to safeguard their livelihoods. When the show cuts to commercial break, viewers are treated to an advertisement from Goldline,” Weiner says in a report released Wednesday.

ENVIRONMENT - Gulf Oil Spill, More Evidence That BP Lies

"Lawmakers hit BP: 'Live video doesn't lie'" by Steve Hargreaves, CNN 5/21/2010

After days of badgering from lawmakers seeking greater access to video footage of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP Thursday made a live camera available for the public to view the disaster site 5,000 feet below water.

The camera is moved periodically. Some of the shots show oil gushing from pipes or the above the well head.

The new video has drawn scrutiny on BP's claim of how many barrels of oil were leaking out daily.

Lawmakers seized the opportunity to criticize the company, accusing it of purposely misleading the public.

"I think now we are beginning to understand that we cannot trust BP," said Ed Markey, D-Mass., one of the lawmakers that led the charge for more footage. "Now the decisions will have to be made by others because it is clear that they have been hiding the actual consequences of this spill."

Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., highlighted the seemingly large amount of oil that was still leaking into the water despite BP's efforts to channel it to the surface via a makeshift pipe.

"It's a fraction of the oil that's being siphoned off," said Boxer. "which tells you there is a much greater volume than BP said."

Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., added, "I'm not sure that we have had the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth out here. And each step it was like pulling teeth to get the video released. But you know, Mr. President, live video pictures don't lie."

Late Thursday, the White House ordered BP to release "any data and other information" related to the spill.

BP said that it has been sharing all information it has with the other organizations responding to the spill, which include the Coast Guard and various other government agencies.

"We've been working with unified command all along," said a BP spokesman. "We're trying to produce the information as we get the requests."

The company has been criticized for both being slow to release video of the spill and for their estimates as to how much oil is leaking.

BP first released video of the leaking oil May 12, only after prodding from lawmakers and 22 days after the Deepwater Horizon drill rig caught fire. The rig sank two days later, claiming 11 lives and leaving an uncapped oil well gushing into the Gulf.

BP and the Coast Guard say the well is partially closed, and is leaking just 210,000 gallons of oil a day.

But other scientists have said it could be much higher, perhaps ten times that amount, and have complained that BP is not giving them access to the disaster site or related data.

"I think now we are beginning to understand that we cannot trust BP," now that's an UNDERSTATEMENT.

They can see the massive lawsuits on the horizon, both government and private.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

ENVIRONMENT - Gulf Oil Spill Update

"Tar Balls Raise Concerns for Florida Coastline, Atlantic Ocean" PBS Newshour Transcript (includes video) 5/18/2010

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The disaster in the Gulf has prompted many questions about whether BP and other oil companies are adequately prepared to deal with other potential accidents on oil rigs in deep water.

Ben Casselman reported on that in today's Wall Street Journal, and joins me from Dallas.

Ben, have the oil companies put as much investment, research, as much energy into preventing and curtailing the damage from accidents as they have into finding and extracting oil in deeper and harder-to-reach places?

BEN CASSELMAN, The Wall Street Journal: Well, it is pretty clear that they haven't. As -- as the companies have moved into deeper water, they have invested a huge amount in technology, but that technology has been aimed at getting oil out of the ground.

And Tony Hayward, BP's CEO, admitted last week that companies could have done more to prepare for this kind of disaster.

RAY SUAREZ: There are many other rigs, many other companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico. Generally, are they prepared to seal a runaway well?

BEN CASSELMAN: Well, it is much harder to control a runaway well in deep water than on land or in shallow water.

Part of the challenge is that the well itself is under a mile or more of water. And you can't use some of the techniques you could use on land. We're learning more about whether BP was -- was particularly well-prepared for this or unprepared, but it is clear that the industry as a whole doesn't have the kinds of systems in place that BP is now trying to develop for this situation.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, we have been drilling for oil very commonly in the Gulf of Mexico for decades now. Are these companies more able to deal with accidents than they were, let's say, in the 1960s?

BEN CASSELMAN: Well, companies have developed a great deal of technology, and they -- that technology is much better than it was in the 1960s.

But, at the same time, they have tackled increasingly challenging reservoirs. What that means is that what was routine a few years ago is now -- or, rather, what was difficult a few years ago is -- is now routine, and what was unheard of a few years ago is now being done on an experimental basis. And...

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you mentioned that everybody is going into deeper and deeper water. By necessity, this is all being done at remote control, right? Human beings can't work at that depth, can they?

BEN CASSELMAN: No, that's right. And we have seen them this week operate with remotely-operated vehicles.

It's being controlled either remotely or using robots on the seafloor. That works fine when things go right. But it makes it much harder to solve a problem when things go wrong.

RAY SUAREZ: Are mishaps rare enough at this depth that, almost always, you're flying by the seat of your pants because there is nothing like a standard operating procedure?

BEN CASSELMAN: Mishaps like this are extremely rare. But it is clear that incidents happen on a relatively regular basis.

Last year, just since July, there was a fire aboard a brand-new rig. There was a power outage where a rig started to drift and -- and could have split free from the well. There was a gas leak on a -- on a gas production platform. Those kinds of things happen.

What is rare is for so much to go wrong at once in a catastrophic situation like this.

RAY SUAREZ: Looking at the particular case of BP, how does their record stack up against that of other oil companies in worker safety, spill limitation, control of damage, that sort of thing?

BEN CASSELMAN: Well, BP, of course, has run into a number of problems with its refineries that have been very well-documented. Its record in deep water is less clear.

But they have had incidents before. One incident we looked at in particular was in 2003 that in some ways is very similar to this one. In this case, a rig was rocked by an explosion. This was actually a pipe that connected it to the well snapped in two and released.

And that well, had it flown out of control, could have released as much oil in a week as Exxon Valdez did in 1989. In this case, the blowout preventer, the valve at the ocean floor that is meant to shut down a well in an emergency, in this case, it worked, unlike in the -- in the disaster in the Gulf that's going on now.

But it was a near-miss. And BP commissioned a study to try to find out what had happened and to try to find out what went wrong. And the conclusions they drew were that the company was well-prepared for the immediate aftermath of a disaster like that, but less well-prepared for the long-term recovery effort. And, of course, that is very similar to the criticism being levied against BP right now.

RAY SUAREZ: President Obama has slammed the cozy relationship between the Minerals Management Service and other federal regulators and the companies working in this area.

What did your reporting find about the relationship between the Coast Guard, which is on the surface of the water, the MMS, which is down below, and the companies drilling oil?

BEN CASSELMAN: Well, the MMS, and the Coast Guard as well, have ceded a lot of their authority to the industry itself. Rather than prescribing specific regulations, they have set standards and then left it up to companies to find a way to meet those.

But one of the challenges is this technological advancement that we were just talking about. As the companies have pushed the limits of technology, the regulators have been left behind. And the Coast Guard admitted that in hearings last week. They said that they really had not been able to keep up with the new technologies that were being rolled out on a regular basis.

RAY SUAREZ: So, that emphasis on extraction over emergency preparedness is now being conceded by the entities that are supposed to look over the shoulder of the oil industry in the Gulf?

BEN CASSELMAN: Well, they certainly admitted that -- that they were not requiring the kinds of safeguards that we now wish had been in place on the Deepwater Horizon.

RAY SUAREZ: Ben Casselman joining us from Dallas, thanks for joining us.

BEN CASSELMAN: Thank you so much.

POLITICS - GOP as of 5/19/2010

"The GOP's special failure" by JONATHAN MARTIN & CHARLES MAHTESIAN, Politico 5/19/2010

Excerpt

All the evidence pointing to monster Republican House gains this fall—the Scott Brown upset win in Massachusetts, the scary polling numbers in once-safely Democratic districts, the ever-rising number of Democratic seats thought to be in jeopardy—was contradicted Tuesday.

In the only House race that really mattered to both parties—the special election to replace the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha in Pennsylvania’s 12th District—Republicans failed spectacularly, losing on a level playing field where, in this favorable environment, they should have run roughshod over the opposition.

Given the resources the GOP poured into the effort to capture the seat and the decisiveness of the defeat—as it turned out, it wasn’t really that close—the outcome casts serious doubt on the idea that the Democratic House majority is in jeopardy and offers comfort to a Democratic Party that is desperately in search of a glimmer of hope.

The district itself couldn’t have been more primed for a Republican victory. According to one recent poll, President Barack Obama’s approval rating in the 12th was a dismal 35 percent, compared to 55 percent who disapproved. His health care plan was equally unpopular—just 30 percent of those polled supported it, while 58 percent were in opposition.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was even more disliked in the blue-collar, western Pennsylvania-based seat: Just 23 percent viewed her favorably, compared to 63 percent who viewed her unfavorably.

Still, Democrat Mark Critz managed to pull off an eight-point victory, 53 percent to 45 percent, over Republican Tim Burns in a district that John McCain narrowly won in 2008—the only one in the nation that voted for John Kerry in 2004 and McCain four years later.

The race marked the third highly-contested, fair-fight special House election that the GOP has dropped in the last year.

The seat Murtha held for 36 years is precisely the sort of Rust Belt district—economically populist and culturally traditional—that Republicans must win to claim the 40 seats necessary to take back the House.

Yet the way Critz and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee won the contest offered a reminder that the prospect of a GOP majority remains a mirage. And Tuesday’s result has Democrats breathing a sigh of relief, thinking they’ve found a formula to mitigate their losses in what will still be a difficult election season.


"Howard Dean Tells TPMDC: 'Big Night' For Progressives" by Christina Bellantoni, TMP 5/19/2010

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said in an interview that Tuesday's elections look like a "pretty big sweep" for progressives. "They are having a big night," he said.

"My belief is that progressive Dems are a lot more appealing to mainstream voters than tea party advocates," Dean told me in an interview just after Rep. Joe Sestak was declared the winner over Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary.

"This is a big night for people who really want Washington to be a change agent," Dean said, adding the results show a "backlash" against both parties in official Washington. Dean, also former governor of Vermont and a 2004 presidential candidate, said he views Jack Conway as the progressive choice in Kentucky and said Lt. Gov. Bill Halter's forcing of a runoff in Arkansas proves that candidates on the left can prevail.

At the same time, Dean thinks Sestak is a Democrat in the mold of Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) -- a centrist who was elected in 2006 in part thanks to online progressives supporting and funding his candidacy until it attracted national attention. "New progressives are the old centrists. Conway and Sestak will be pretty damn appealing to the middle of the road," Dean said. "Joe is a bit of an iconoclast and that's what you want in a race like this. Joe is a centrist with conviction politics."

(He added that Halter would also appeal to the center, but it's not clear how he'll fare in that June 8 runoff against Sen. Blanche Lincoln.)

Dean said the results in Arkansas are positive for people seeking change in D.C. "It's interesting to see these folks in Washington being squeezed. Arlen did everything asked of him, becoming a progressive Democrat and backing EFCA and health care and everything else. But he's been in Washington for so long that hurt him, and that hurt Lincoln," Dean said.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

ECONOMY - Your Credit

"Credit card overhaul cuts bank fees by $5B" by Kathy Chu, USA TODAY

Excerpt

New credit card and overdraft restrictions will save U.S. consumers from being charged at least $5 billion in fees this year alone at the largest U.S. retail banks and credit card companies, a USA TODAY analysis reveals.

The analysis — based on institutions' own estimates — comes during a year when new rules are kicking in to address unfair credit card rate increases and steep bank overdraft fees. It highlights the sizable dent these rules will have on an industry blamed for pushing consumers deeper into distress during the recession.

In recent years, banks made it easier for consumers to overdraw their bank accounts and raised credit card fees and rates. As consumer outcry swelled in the recession, Congress passed a credit card law and the Federal Reserve issued a regulation to crack down on banks' aggressive overdraft policies on debit cards.

Lawmakers hope the restrictions will mean much-needed savings for consumers, boosting spending and the economy. Indeed, new data show the measures are their "own little stimulus for the economy, keeping billions in the pockets of consumers rather than in profits gained from deceptive practices," says Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., co-author of card reform signed into law last year.

POLITICS - War Financing

"Senator Coburn Will Filibuster War Bill Unless Paid For" by David Swanson, Democratic Underground 5/17/2010

Excerpt

Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, is committed to opposing a supplemental spending bill that includes $33.5 billion to escalate war in Afghanistan, unless the funds to pay for it are found.

On May 10th Senator Coburn wrote to his colleagues asking for their support for an amendment that would offset the new spending in this bill with cuts elsewhere. I spoke on Monday with Senator Coburn's communications director John Hart who assured me that Coburn intends to oppose the supplemental spending bill unless such an amendment is passed.

Hart said that Senator Coburn's position is that our nation is spending way beyond our means, that Congress has been violating PAYGO rules frequently (statutory rules requiring that all spending be paid for with new revenue or offsetting cuts). Hart said that Senator Coburn has frequently put holds on bills and believes this is justified in the current instance, regardless of whether he's been completely consistent in the past. The PAYGO statute makes an exception for supplemental war spending, but -- as Coburn points out -- this spending blatantly violates the spirit of PAYGO.

Humm.... Now where was Coburn when Bush kept the Iraq and Afghanistan wars totally off the books?

Monday, May 17, 2010

AMERICA - Land of Opportunity, Proven Again

"Metro Detroit celebrates Miss USA's first Arab-American winner" by NIRAJ WARIKOO, Free Press 5/17/2010

Excerpt

With two U.S. flags in front of the stage inside a Dearborn restaurant, Arab Americans cheered, danced, and sang into the night Sunday for Rima Fakih of Dearborn -- crowned Miss USA in Las Vegas.

"This is unbelievable," Rami Haddad, 26, of Livonia said Sunday night after the pageant. "It's a dream come true. I can't express my feelings."

Fakih, of Lebanese descent, went into the pageant as Miss Michigan. She is thought to be the first Arab American and Muslim to become Miss USA.

She won the pageant at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip after swimsuit, evening gown and interview competitions.

Haddad was one of many supporters who gathered at La Pita in Dearborn, where Arab Americans were proud to see Fakih win.

"This is the real face of Arab Americans, not the stereotypes you hear about," said Zouheir Alawieh, 51, of Dearborn. "We have culture. We have beauty. We have history, and today we made history. ... She believed in her dreams."

Arabs and Muslims world wide, please take note; America is NOT, and has never been, anti-Arab nor anti-Muslim.

AMERICA - FOX's Believe it or Not

"FOX News Suggests Banning the American Flag" by Kevin Hayden, PrisonPlanet TV 5/14/2010

Apparently FOX News considers the American Flag the “least incendiary” item to ban in order to “protect the children.” They just released a poll debating the merits of banning the American Flag in public schools in order to quell potential race fights.

What country is this? The fact that FOX News would even OFFER “Banning the American Flag…” as a poll choice is beyond logic and reason. But the worst part?

67% are in FAVOR of banning the flag. (on 5/14/2010)

Sixty Seven Percent! You can find the poll here.

The poll was posted in response to the recent controversy at Live Oaks High School in California (Kaliphornistan?). They decided it was necessary to ban two students from campus grounds for wearing shirts which displayed images of the American flag. Shortly after, the school district stated that they ‘do not concur’ with the actions of Live Oak faculty and that the students would be allowed to return to school without suspension.

This is the effect our mass media is having on American minds. Trying to be politically correct in a violent world will not cut it. This is America. Political issues and immigration status aside, this is our nation’s flag we’re talking about. Banning it, even on (and especially on) school grounds would send a message to the rest of the world – and to future generations – that America has completely sold out. No longer do we hold these Truths to be self evident. No longer would the word patriotism have any meaning. The mere idea of banning the American flag in American schools should create a media shockwave similar to a nuclear bomb detonating.

But it hasn’t.

Should we hoist our flag upside down from this point forward?

America is in dire distress. Help!

NOTE: When I went to the Fox Poll it did NOT show the figures quoted in the article. That is because the vote totals changed when I looked, therefore the % changed, but it's still over 60%!

Also, what is wrong with ALL online polls is that you can vote multiple times. Just to test, I voted twice. So, take this into account with all online polls. They are NOT accurate measure in general, and they ONLY tell you what people that are online think.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

MEDIA - Obit for a Comic Strip

"Homeless again: 'Little Orphan Annie' loses syndication deal after 85 years" by Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times 5/13/2010

Here's the toon obit from the Associated Press with links added by me.

The iconic redheaded orphan Annie is ending her time on newspaper comics pages after 85 years.

Tribune Media Services announced Thursday that it will cease syndication of the “Annie” strip on June 13.

The company said in a news release it is taking Annie into the Internet age by pursuing new audiences for her in digital media.

The comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” made its newspaper debut on Aug. 5, 1924, first written and illustrated by creator Harold Gray.

The strip later was renamed simply “Annie.” The spunky orphan was adopted by Daddy Warbucks and later joined by her lovable dog Sandy. Annie is known for wearing a red dress with white collar and cuffs. Over decades she has become the center of a radio program, Broadway musical and movies.

ON THE LITE SIDE - From Chicago

Chicago Sun-Times Video

POLITICS - Protecting Their Own

"Senate GOP moves to kill securitizers rule" by Kevin Drawbaugh, Reuters 5/11/2010

Excerpt

A provision in the Democratic bill would force some lenders to retain on their books at least five percent of the risk in mortgages that they bundle and package for resale as securities on the secondary debt market. The idea, known as requiring "skin in the game," is opposed by the mortgage industry.

Republican Senator Bob Corker offered an amendment on Tuesday that would strip the "skin in the game" provision out of the bill, mandate a study on securitization, and impose new federal government standards on mortgage loan underwriting.

"The arbitrary five percent risk retention standard in the Dodd bill will greatly limit the availability of consumer credit and put many small and mid-sized lenders out of business," Corker said in a statement.

Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd, the reform bill's chief author, called for the Corker amendment to be rejected. "Excesses and abuses in the securitization process played a very major role in this financial crisis," he said.

"If you don't have skin in the game, if you don't have a vested interest in this, you don't care about the outcome."

A vote on the Corker amendment was expected on Wednesday, along with some related mortgage-market amendments.

The collapse in 2007-2008 of the subprime mortgage bubble triggered the worst financial crisis in decades. It shook economies worldwide and led to taxpayer bailouts of banks and Wall Street firms, including some top securitization firms.

SECURITIZATION REFORM KEY

Congress is working on the biggest rewrite of financial regulation since the 1930s, aiming to make banks and capital markets more stable. Securitization reform is a key part.

The practice was widely used in the government-guaranteed mortgage market for many years, but when Wall Street got involved and started securitizing lower-quality, subprime loans, discipline in the loan process broke down.

Critics say securitization, especially in the non-government subprime market, eroded lending standards, by allowing lenders to quickly sell off loans they made, reducing their interest in ensuring the quality of the loans.

Dodd's bill proposes that lenders either submit to the baseline 5-percent skin-in-the-game rule, or take steps to ensure that their loans meet standards that reduce risk.

Corker's amendment would delete the "skin-in-the-game" provision and require that mortgage borrowers' income be verified; that borrowers make a downpayment of at least five percent; and that lenders assess borrowers' ability to repay.

POLITICS - of GOP Spin


"SPIN METER: GOP senators' shifting standards" by HENRY C. JACKSON, AP 5/12/2010

So, Senator, how much does judicial experience matter when considering a Supreme Court nominee?

It depends on when you're asking.

Republicans now criticizing President Barack Obama's nominee, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, for her lack of judicial experience welcomed that same lack of credentials a few years ago, when a president of their own party nominated a non-judge for the high court.

In 2005, when then-President George W. Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, plenty of Republicans said they found it refreshing that Miers' experience amounted primarily to her time as a corporate lawyer and Bush aide.

That included Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who noted then that "40 percent of the men and women who have served as Supreme Court justices" had no judicial experience.

"One reason I felt so strongly about Harriet Miers' qualifications is I thought she would fill some very important gaps in the Supreme Court," Cornyn said in 2005. "Because right now you have people who've been federal judges, circuit judges most of their lives or academicians."

Now, with a Democrat in the White House, what Cornyn once considered refreshing in a high court nominee is in Kagan's case "surprising."

"Ms. Kagan is ... a surprising choice because she lacks judicial experience," Cornyn said Monday. "Most Americans believe that prior judicial experience is a necessary credential for a Supreme Court Justice."

A former Clinton administration aide and dean of the Harvard Law School, Kagan once was nominated for the federal bench, but her bid was stonewalled by a Republican Senate majority.

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, likewise found Miers' qualifications suitable five years ago: "It is not necessary that she have previous experience as a judge in order to serve on the Supreme Court," Sessions said. "It's perfectly acceptable to nominate outstanding lawyers to that position."

But on Monday, Sessions was seeing things differently. Kagan, he said, "warrants great scrutiny" because of her lack of time as a judge. "Ms. Kagan's lack of judicial experience and short time as solicitor general ... is troubling," he said.

And the list goes on. Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas thought Miers was a "wonderful choice" in 2005, but today she "has some concerns over Elena Kagan's lack of judicial experience."

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Monday that Kagan's lack of judicial record raises questions — though he said in 2005 that he was not troubled by Miers' lack of judicial experience.

Another Republican, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, likewise didn't see Miers' lack of time on the bench as a holdup. On Monday, he said the same factor is a cause for further scrutiny of Kagan.

Despite those senators' praise, Miers ended up withdrawing her name under heavy criticism from conservatives who questioned her credentials on constitutional law and worried she wouldn't be a judicial conservative.

SPACE - "The Sky is Falling!" ...Cable Satellites

"Drifting satellite threatens cable programming" MSNBC & AP 5/11/2010

Intelsat says it lost ability to control Galaxy 15 satellite last month

Two of the world's largest satellite companies say they're scrambling to keep an out-of-control communications satellite from drifting into another satellite's orbit and interfering with cable programming across the United States.

Intelsat said it lost control of the Galaxy 15 satellite on April 5, possibly because the satellite's systems were knocked out by a solar storm. Intelsat cannot remotely steer the satellite to remain in its orbit, so Galaxy 15 is creeping toward the adjacent path of another TV communications satellite that serves U.S. cable companies.

Galaxy 15 continues to receive and transmit satellite signals, and they will probably interfere with the second satellite, known as AMC 11, if Galaxy 15 drifts into its orbit as expected around May 23, according to the two satellite companies.

AMC 11 receives digital programming from cable television channels and transmits it to all U.S. cable networks from its orbit 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the equator, SES World Skies said. It operates on the same frequencies as Galaxy 15.

"That fact means that there is likely to be some kind of interference," SES World Skies spokesman Yves Feltes told The Associated Press. "Our aim is to bring any interference down to zero."

He would not name any of the cable television channels or providers that could be affected or say how long the interference could last.

However, AMC 11 is part of a satellite constellation that transmits HD television signals for more than 100 channels, ranging from Showtime and MTV Networks to HSN and the Food Network. Among the channels carried by Galaxy 15 and its sibling satellites are Cinemax, Encore, ESPN, Fox News Channel, HBO, Starz and SyFy.

DirecTV Inc., the largest US satellite TV company, said it will not be affected. Comcast Corp. said it was monitoring the situation. Cox Communications Inc. said it could not immediately specify if its service would be affected and Dish Network Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc., Charter Communications Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp. had no statements on the matter or did not return Associated Press calls seeking comment.

"We are confident that service disruptions will be minimized or avoided," said Dianne VanBeber, a spokeswoman for Intelsat.

How to minimize disruptions

Galaxy 15 is floating over the Pacific Ocean slightly to the east of Hawaii, said Emmet Fletcher, space surveillance and tracking manager for the Space Situational Awareness Program at the European Space Agency. He said Galaxy 15 was highly unusual because it continued to send out television signals, unlike other malfunctioning satellites that automatically went into complete shutdown when their navigational systems malfunctioned.

Last week, SES World Skies said that the period that poses the greatest risk of interference for AMC 11 customers would be May 31 to June 1.

SES' Yves Feltes said one option to prevent interference would be to use AMC 11's propulsion system to shift the satellite about 60 miles (100 kilometers) away, to an orbit that's still within its carefully prescribed "orbital box" but as far away as possible from Galaxy 15.

He said SES had other strategies under consideration but declined to provide details. "We have all of our technicians, all of our specialists on this case," he said.

Both companies said there was no risk of an actual collision between the two satellites in space.

Intelsat said it was analyzing signals from Galaxy 15 daily in order to predict its trajectory and was trying to figure out if it can shut down the satellite's transmission so it would not interfere with AMC 11. VanBeber said cable companies could also adjust their equipment in order to minimize any interference.

Turning into a zombie satellite
She said satellites like Galaxy 15 today cost $250 million to build, launch and insure, but the satellite probably cost less when it was launched in 2005.

Feltes said the two satellite companies, both based in Luxembourg, were cooperating closely. "They have tried numerous things to regain control of the satellite or to have it finally shut down," he said. "It needs some collaboration to bring the impact of this failure to an absolute minimum."

Eventually, Galaxy 15 is expected to drift into one of two gravity wells in Earth orbit that capture most out-of-control satellites. About 150 to 200 such "zombiesats" are already oscillating around those orbital points.

TAXES - The Longer View

"Tax bills in 2009 at lowest level since 1950" by Dennis Cauchon, USA Today

Amid complaints about high taxes and calls for a smaller government, Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman's presidency, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data found.

Some conservative political movements such as the "Tea Party" have criticized federal spending as being out of control. While spending is up, taxes have fallen to exceptionally low levels.

Federal, state and local income taxes consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.

"The idea that taxes are high right now is pretty much nuts," says Michael Ettlinger, head of economic policy at the liberal Center for American Progress. The real problem is spending,counters Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks, which organizes Tea Party groups. "The money we borrow is going to be paid back through taxation in the future," he says.

Individual tax rates vary widely based on how much a taxpayer earns, where the person lives and other factors. On average, though, the tax rate paid by all Americans — rich and poor, combined — has fallen 26% since the recession began in 2007. That means a $3,400 annual tax savings for a household paying the average national rate and earning the average national household income of $102,000.

This tax drop has boosted consumer spending and the economy, which grew at a 3.2% annual rate in the first quarter. It also has contributed to the federal debt growing to $8.4 trillion.

Taxes paid have fallen much faster than income in this recession. Personal income fell 2% last year. Taxes paid dropped 23%. The BEA classifies Social Security taxes as insurance payments and excludes them from the tax calculation.

Why the tax bite has eased:

• Stimulus law. One-third of last year's $862 billion economic stimulus went for tax cuts. Biggest reduction: The Making Work Pay tax credit reduced income taxes $800 for married couples earning up to $150,000.

• Progressive tax rates. Presidents Clinton and Bush pushed through a series of tax changes — credits, lower rates, higher exemptions — that slashed income taxes for poor and middle-class families. A drop in income now can trigger big tax breaks and sharply lower rates, sometimes falling to zero.

• Sales tax. Consumers cut spending sharply in this downturn, thereby paying less in sales taxes.

A Gallup Poll last month found that 48% thought taxes were "too high" and 45% thought they were "about right." Those saying taxes are "too high" remain near a 50-year low.

The lower tax burden should last at least through 2010, says Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C. "Virtually all the stimulus tax cuts expire at the end of the year," he says. "So the key decision is whether to extend them into 2011."

ECONOMY - More on "Barbarians at the Gate"

"Prosecutors Ask if 8 Banks Duped Rating Agencies" by LOUISE STORY, New York Times 5/12/2010

Excerpt

The New York attorney general has started an investigation of eight banks to determine whether they provided misleading information to rating agencies in order to inflate the grades of certain mortgage securities, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation.

The investigation parallels federal inquiries into the business practices of a broad range of financial companies in the years before the collapse of the housing market.

Where those investigations have focused on interactions between the banks and their clients who bought mortgage securities, this one expands the scope of scrutiny to the interplay between banks and the agencies that rate their securities.

The agencies themselves have been widely criticized for overstating the quality of many mortgage securities that ended up losing money once the housing market collapsed. The inquiry by the attorney general of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo, suggests that he thinks the agencies may have been duped by one or more of the targets of his investigation.

Those targets are Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, UBS, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Crédit Agricole and Merrill Lynch, which is now owned by Bank of America.

The companies that rated the mortgage deals are Standard & Poor’s, Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service. Investors used their ratings to decide whether to buy mortgage securities.

You hear it in the background? The GOP Mantra? .........

........ "NO regulation" "Regulation bad for business." "Regulation bad for US." (and that's NOT US = USA)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

POLITICS - "Tea Party" Spin-and-Burn

"The death of the Tea Party movement" by Bill Press, Barboo News Republic 5/9/2010

Farewell to the Tea Party. It was fun while it lasted. It certainly got a lot of undue media attention. But it died a premature, yet welcome, death.

Ironically, what killed the Tea Party was not opposition from either the Republican or Democratic Party. The Tea Party committed suicide, rendered irrelevant by a succession of current events.

The central premise of Tea Party loyalists, after all, was that they were anti-government. You know the drill: All government is bad. Taxes are bad. Government bureaucrats are bad. Then, unfortunately for them, just as they were gaining traction, tea baggers ran into the reality of tornadoes, disastrous floods, an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and a terrorist attack in Times Square. In each of those cases, whom did people turn to for help? The government. And the future of the Tea Party was suddenly kaput: as dead as John Edwards' political career.

Take the Times Square bomber. He was identified, tracked down, and apprehended exactly 53 hours and 17 minutes from the time he parked his lethal van at 45th and 7th Avenue. How? Through excellent police work by the New York City Police Department, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Proud tea partiers, note: All of those police officers work for the government. All of them are paid by our tax dollars. They did an incredible job. Thanks to them, one more terrorist is behind bars. Let those who "hate" government explain why they hate law enforcement officials who are keeping us all safe.

Take the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, according to law, BP is responsible for conducting and paying for the cleanup. But who were the first ones on the scene? The Coast Guard. Who's overseeing the work of BP and other contractors to make sure they are doing everything possible to stop the leak, minimize onshore damage, and reimburse watermen for lost wages? The Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of the Interior.

Again, they are all federal employees, paid by our tax dollars - and they were the agencies all five Republican governors of the Gulf States turned to for help on April 22, when BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and burned.

Take the recent series of storms and tornadoes that hit the South, causing so much death and destruction. When tornadoes swept across Mississippi and Alabama, and when severe flooding struck Nashville, the pattern was the same. Local officials, unable to cope alone, called for help. FEMA officials arrived on the scene. Soon thereafter, President Obama declared the most severely impacted areas of those states as federal disaster areas, making residents eligible for grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.

Governors in those states did not reject the federal government's help. They actually requested it, and thanked Obama for it. "On behalf of all Alabamians, I thank President Obama for his response to this terrible storm that has affected so many people," said Governor Bob Riley. "The president's actions will help those communities recover more quickly."

One final example. In no state have government-hating Tea Partiers been louder or more active than in Virginia. Conservative Republican Governor Bob McDonnell was elected last year partly on an anti-big government platform. Yet no state profits more from federal largesse.

As reported by The Washington Post, 10 cents of every federal procurement dollar spent anywhere on earth is spent in Virginia. More than 15,000 Virginia companies hold federal contracts. ... Total federal spending in the state has more than doubled, to $118 billion, since 2000. By 2008, it accounted for a stunning 30 percent of Virginia's entire economy. And so far, McDonnell has not refused one penny of it. Don't expect him to any time in the future, either.

All of which makes a mockery of the entire Tea Party movement. When trouble comes, those who complain the loudest about big government are the first ones with their hands out for federal help. Until tea partiers are willing to tear up their Social Security cards and Medicare cards, and reject all help from the FBI, Coast Guard, EPA, FEMA, or any other federal agency, they're nothing but a bunch of phonies.

Good riddance to these hypocrites and crazies.

POLITICS - As the GOP Falls

"How GOP lost the Latino vote" by HECTOR AVALOS, Des Moines Register 5/9/2010

Say what you will about George W. Bush, but he was spectacularly more successful with Latino voters than the Republican Party is today.

Latinos now number some 45 million people, and form nearly 8 percent of the national electorate. By 2020, they are slated to become 20 percent.

Bush realized Republicans cannot easily win national and many local elections without the Latino vote. His strategy was succeeding because in the 2004 presidential election, Republicans garnered 39 percent of the Latino vote, a significant increase from the 21 percent in 1996.

But the 2006 elections signaled a change when some Republicans, who used "illegal immigration" as a main issue, began to lose not only the Latino vote but also their elections altogether.

Such Republican candidates include Arizona's J. D. Hayworth, who lost the race for Congress, and is now seeking John McCain's Senate seat. Bob Beauprez lost the governor's race in Colorado by 15 points. In Indiana, John Hostettler received only 39 percent of the total vote in a losing bid for his seventh term in the U.S. House. Many factors can be cited for these losses, but the anti-illegal immigration stance certainly did not help them win. They all could have used the Latino vote.

By 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won the presidential elections with some 67 percent of the Latino vote, which delivered the winning margin in Indiana, a strongly Republican state. Latinos made the difference in some battlegrounds states.

So why are Republicans losing the Latino gains they made under Bush? It is not because Republicans made illegal immigration an issue. It is the way they did it. Indeed, the crucial problem with the Republican strategy on immigration is tone.

First, military vocabulary began to be used ("war on the border") without concurrent messages to ensure Americans could distinguish undocumented Latinos from legal Latinos, who comprise the vast majority of Latinos.

Second, dehumanizing language was used. Witness Republican Pat Bertroche, who wants to represent Iowa in Congress, "joking" that we can microchip illegal immigrants just as we do dogs. Other politicians compare the undocumented to stray animals. This from a party that believes itself to be pro-life.

Third, the alarm was disproportional with the facts. Consider the common charge that undocumented immigration is causing some unprecedented increase in crime in Arizona. Yes, there is crime in my former home state of Arizona, but actually less than elsewhere. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the rate of "murder and non-negligent homicide" (per 100,000 population) in Phoenix in 2008 was 10.5, but it was 31.4 in Washington, D.C., and 36.9 in Baltimore. And Department of Justice statistics also show the overall "violent crime rate" in Arizona decreased from 703.1 in 1994 to 447.0 in 2008. During this period we were supposedly experiencing a massive violent invasion. By that logic, the increase in illegal immigration lowered the violent crime rates.

Jobs for Americans were supposedly being taken by illegal immigrants. But U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show unemployment rates dropping from 5.1 in 2005 to 4.6 in 2006, when Republicans increasingly used illegal immigration as an issue.

Now, Jan Brewer, the Republican governor of Arizona, has signed a law that allows local law enforcement to use "reasonable suspicion" to demand evidence of legal status from virtually anyone.

A few years ago, many Latinos might have believed Republicans were only against illegal immigrants and not against all Latinos. The law changes all that.

The reason is clear. On a practical level, one cannot entertain a "reasonable suspicion" of legal status without resorting to racial profiling. Blond-haired, blue-eyed people probably will not be "reasonably suspected" of being illegal aliens. Brown people will be. In effect, the law erases the line between legal and undocumented Latinos, and so becomes a threat to all Latinos - not to mention a threat to other ethnic groups.

Moreover, the equal protection under the law guaranteed by the 14th Amendment appears violated because the government is not applying "reasonable suspicion" equally to all citizens.

That is why the law might energize Latino voters, whose rallies against this law draw numbers dwarfing those of most tea party rallies. It might also result in increasing civil and ethnic unrest that will have a retrogressive effect on race relations in America.

If the Republican Party wishes to atone for its mistakes with Latino voters, it would do well to resume the tone of George W. Bush's successful strategy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

ON THE LITE SIDE - Bohemian Rhapsody

The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody

POLITICS - of GOP Branded Terrorism

COUNTDOWN
with Keith Olbermann
Special Comment 5/4/2010

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SUPREME COURT - Elena Kagan

"Obama Picks Kagan as Justice Nominee" by PETER BAKER & JEFF ZELENY, New York Times 5/9/2010

Excerpt

President Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan as the nation’s 112th justice, choosing his own chief advocate before the Supreme Court to join it in ruling on cases critical to his view of the country’s future.

After a monthlong search, Mr. Obama informed Ms. Kagan and his advisers on Sunday of his choice to succeed the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

In settling on Ms. Kagan, the president chose a well-regarded 50-year-old lawyer who served as a staff member in all three branches of government and was the first woman to be dean of Harvard Law School. If confirmed, she would be the youngest member and the third woman on the current court, but the first justice in nearly four decades without any prior judicial experience.

That lack of time on the bench may both help and hurt her confirmation prospects, allowing critics to question whether she is truly qualified while denying them a lengthy judicial paper trail filled with ammunition for attacks. As solicitor general, Ms. Kagan has represented the government before the Supreme Court for the past year, but her own views are to a large extent a matter of supposition.

Perhaps as a result, some on both sides of the ideological aisle are suspicious of her. Liberals dislike her support for strong executive power and her outreach to conservatives while running the law school. Activists on the right have attacked her for briefly barring military recruiters from a campus facility because the ban on openly gay men and lesbians serving in the military violated the school’s anti-discrimination policy.

Replacing Justice Stevens with Ms. Kagan presumably would not alter the broad ideological balance on the court, but her relative youth means that she could have an influence on the court for decades to come, underscoring the stakes involved.

In making his second nomination in as many years, Mr. Obama was not looking for a liberal firebrand as much as a persuasive leader who could attract the swing vote of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and counter what the president sees as the rightward direction of the court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Particularly since the Citizens United decision invalidating on free speech grounds the restrictions on corporate spending in elections, Mr. Obama has publicly criticized the court, even during his State of the Union address with justices in the audience.

As he presses an ambitious agenda expanding the reach of government, Mr. Obama has come to worry that a conservative Supreme Court could become an obstacle down the road, aides said. It is conceivable that the Roberts court could eventually hear challenges to aspects of Mr. Obama’s health care program or to other policies like restrictions on carbon emissions and counterterrorism practices.

POLICIES - David Obey (D-Okl)

"Shields and Brooks Assess Economy's Signals, NYC Bomb Plot Suspect" PBS Newshour Transcript

Excerpt (section on David Obey)

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Let me, just in our last minute or so here -- I want to come back to politics. You mentioned David Obey, a very powerful figure for a long time, and announced he will not run again. What's the significance?

MARK SHIELDS (syndicated columnist): Significance is that David Obey was almost unique among political figures in this town -- 41 years. You never saw him on the -- on the cable talk shows. He was never on the Washington, D.C., social circuit. He was grumpy. He was hard-working. He was smarter. He was an amazingly effective legislator. And he was truly remarkable, in my judgment, and unlike anybody else who came to this town, he absolutely said what he meant and he meant what he said. And he said the same thing to whoever he was talking to. And he got in fights with presidents of his own party and leaders of his own party.

But he said to me, he said, You learn early on in this town that our society is wired, and it's wired to the advantage of those who are privileged. And the one thing public policy can do is give a break to people who aren't privileged and don't have that advantage. And I think he spent his whole career doing it. And he will be missed because he was truly one of a kind.

JEFFREY BROWN: And of course, this announcement plays into this question of how Democrats -- the prospect for Democrats.

DAVID BROOKS (The New York Times): Right, and they have bad prospects, though there are not a lot of retirees, to be fair. There are chunks, but not a lot. I agree with everything Mark said about David Obey, but I still think he ill served the country in a crucial respect. Obama comes in, promises a new style of politics. Whether that was realistic or not, I'm not sure. But immediately, there's a stimulus package that goes through the House Appropriations Committee. And I remember watching the mark-up, and David Obey was as rude and as ruthless towards the Republicans in that committee as, frankly, Republicans had been to Democrats when they were in power. And that set us back.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, that will have to be...

MARK SHIELDS: He wrote the stimulus package, and he said, "It's the unpopular things you do that you're most proud of." And he's proud of what he wrote.

AMERICA - Changing Demographics of Suburbs

"Suburbs Losing Young Whites To Cities, Brookings Institution Finds" by HOPE YEN, (AP) Huffington Post 5/9/2010

Excerpt

White flight? In a reversal, America's suburbs are now more likely to be home to minorities, the poor and a rapidly growing older population as many younger, educated whites move to cities for jobs and shorter commutes.

An analysis of 2000-2008 census data by the Brookings Institution highlights the demographic "tipping points" seen in the past decade and the looming problems in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, which represent two-thirds of the U.S. population.

The findings could offer an important road map as political parties, including the tea party movement, seek to win support in suburban battlegrounds in the fall elections and beyond. In 2008, Barack Obama carried a substantial share of the suburbs, partly with the help of minorities and immigrants.

The analysis being released Sunday provides the freshest detail on the nation's growing race and age divide, which is now feeding tensions in Arizona over its new immigration law.

Ten states, led by Arizona, surpass the nation in a "cultural generation gap" in which the senior populations are disproportionately white and children are mostly minority.

This gap is pronounced in suburbs of fast-growing areas in the Southwest, including those in Florida, California, Nevada, and Texas.

"A new metro map is emerging in the U.S. that challenges conventional thinking about where we live and work," said Alan Berube, research director with the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, a nonpartisan think-tank based in Washington. "The old concepts of suburbia, Sun Belt and Rust Belt are outdated and at odds with effective governance."
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Suburbs still tilt white. But, for the first time, a majority of all racial and ethnic groups in large metro areas live outside the city. Suburban Asians and Hispanics already had topped 50 percent in 2000, and blacks joined them by 2008, rising from 43 percent in those eight years.

Suburbs are home to the vast majority of baby boomers age 55 to 64, a fast-growing group that will strain social services after the first wave of boomers turns 65 next year.

Analysts attribute the racial shift to suburbs in many cases to substantial shares of minorities leaving cities, such as blacks from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Whites, too, are driving the trend by returning or staying put in larger cities.

Washington, D.C., and Atlanta posted the largest increases in white share since 2000, each up 5 percentage points to 44 percent and 36 percent, respectively. Other white gains were seen in New York, San Francisco, Boston and cities in another seven of the nation's 100 largest metro areas.

"A new image of urban America is in the making," said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings who co-wrote the report. "What used to be white flight to the suburbs is turning into 'bright flight' to cities that have become magnets for aspiring young adults who see access to knowledge-based jobs, public transportation and a new city ambiance as an attraction."

"This will not be the future for all cities, but this pattern in front runners like Atlanta, Portland, Ore., Raleigh, N.C., and Austin, Texas, shows that the old urban stereotypes no longer apply," he said.

The suburbs now have the largest poor population in the country. According to the analysis, between 1999 and 2008, the suburban poor grew by 25 percent; five times the growth rate of the poor in cities. During that same time period, the median household income in the U.S. declined by $2,241.

Of the top 100 metro areas, 42 experienced a drop in the size of their middle class, according to the Brookings analysis. Of those 42 cities, 10 saw the middle class decline by at least 5 percentage points.

The size of the middle class (households earning between 80 and 150 percent of median income) dropped almost 30 percent between 1999 and 2008.

The findings are part of Brookings' broad demographic portrait of America since 2000, when the country experienced the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a historic boom in housing prices and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Calling 2010 the "decade of reckoning," the report urges policymakers to shed outdated notions of America's cities and suburbs and work quickly to address the coming problems caused by the dramatic shifts in population.

Among its recommendations: affordable housing and social services for older people in the suburbs; better transit systems to link cities and suburbs; and a new federal Office of New Americans to serve the education and citizenship needs of the rapidly growing immigrant community.

The historical view, "The modern American usage of the term came about during the course of the 19th century, as improvements in transportation and sanitation made it possible for wealthy developments to exist on the outskirts of cities."

Also, "In the United States, suburbs have a prevalence of usually detached single-family homes."

(from the Wikipedia ref link above)